At age 93, Ralph Barrale continues his mission to make sure we never forget what those in our military have done for us.
In 2008, it was Ralph’s vision that saw the creation and implementation of Veterans Memorial Park in Lake Saint Louis. A statue of a soldier guards the memorial, with its year-round water feature. “We are very proud of the Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies and other patriotic events that take place there.
Another labor of love for Ralph was establishing the Veterans Memorial Parkway. “It was my honor to work with every city from St. Charles to Foristell to have the service road renamed Veterans Memorial Highway. It took two long years to convince every city to go through the complications of changing the name and addresses, but it worked and I am proud of Veterans Memorial Parkway, ” smiles Barrale.
Ralph Barrale was born to a proud St. Louis Italian family on January 22, 1924. Working at a defense plant, Ralph joined the United States Army in May of 1943, just 19 years old. He proudly served his country as a Private in the Army for 36 months.
“In August of 1944, I landed on Utah Beach as part of the First Army,” said Ralph. “We never slowed down and I fought in France with the Third Army and in Holland with the First Army.” The fighting for Ralph and the Army continued with the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest on the German-Belgian border.
Ralph was upgraded to Private First Class after the war. “The flashbacks still come to me every once in a while – from the intense fighting, the never-ending artillery fire, the constant bombs and the strafing from planes,” admitted Barrale. “However, I must say that the hardest memory that never goes away is when it snows here – the cold. It was the coldest German winter in 100 years during the Battle of the Bulge and we only had summer uniforms. I never saw more snow or felt colder in my entire life and now, when I see the snow and feel cold, there are times when I also remember the blood in the snow,” said Ralph.
As a member of the 821st Combat MP’s, Ralph was a member of the troops who entered the Dachau concentration camp after its liberation and he also served as an MP at the police station during the Nuremberg trials.
As a “Man on a Mission,” Ralph continues to battle on with his ambitious mission of establishing a local Veterans museum. While the world has many “dreamers,” Ralph is a “doer” and his long-time vision of a St Charles County Veterans Museum has come a long way in the last few years.
“There is a vital need for a Veterans Museum in Saint Charles County,” states Ralph. “Current and future generations of County residents need to know what happened well before many of them were born. To see, feel and hear the sacrifices the men and women of our armed forces endured to maintain the freedoms and liberties we have today can only be understood in a museum, not simply from a history book that is scanned quickly in schools,” replied Ralph in his most serious tone.
“Our first, and most important step for a veterans museum was to secure a building,” stated Ralph. “I quickly learned that buildings are hard to find, especially when you are looking for a building at the lowest cost possible, and when I say low, I really mean low,” smiled Ralph.
After some fruitless efforts in that search for a building, Ralph attended a Veterans Job Finding Program at O’Fallon City Hall. Always ready to talk about his museum vision, Ralph took the opportunity to meet O’Fallon Mayor Bill Hennessy and to share his ideas.
“I could tell that Hennessy was listening intently while I talked with him, and when I finished a big smile came over his face,” chuckled Ralph. Without hesitation, Hennessy said, “I might just have a building for you Ralph. Be patient, I’ll see what I can do because I want that museum to be right here in O’Fallon, the middle of St. Charles County.”
The building Mayor Hennessy was hoping to use for the Veterans museum was the former City Annex on East Elm Street. Presently being used by the Parks and Recreation Department, the only way this building would become available is through the passage of a Parks proposition on the ballot in 2016 to allow for additional facilities and freeing up the East Elm Street space.
The O’Fallon Parks Action Team (OPAT) and the Saint Charles County Veterans Museum Team took their marching orders and began to work for passage.
The hard work by both committees, many great residents and the full support of every member of the O’Fallon City Council, Prop Parks passed by 59.7%.
Based upon a final 10-0 vote by the O’Fallon City Council, the City Annex building was made available to the Saint Charles County Veterans Museum Committee with the promise of an extremely fair lease.
Now the work has begun. Fundraising efforts are now starting with meetings with every Veterans organization, county businesses, civic groups and individual residents.
“Although we will soon be signing a lease with the City of O’Fallon for $1 per year, we are going to be responsible for a percentage the operation of the building, insurance, utilities, etc., so fundraising is very important to us,” stated Ralph.
It is the feeling of Ralph Barrale and all members of the St. Charles County Veterans Museum Committee that a high percentage of residents of the County have military memorabilia boxed away. Whether a uniform, a flag, medals, military records, photos, etc., it is the hope of the committee that a strong marketing effort will result in these items being loaned or donated to the museum. What better way could there be to display the military memorabilia of the families in St. Charles County than in a museum just a few miles from their home?
“I learned the true meaning of liberty during World War II as I witnessed first hand the lack of liberty of those we fought to free from German rule,” stated Ralph. “Unfortunately, we take for granted the freedom and the liberty of our lives and I am certain that the museum we are creating will provide a true understanding to all that visit it.”
To make donations of military memorabilia for the museum, contact Ralph Barrale at 636-332-4696 or text Jim Frain at 314-780-1811 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.